The Rental review – tense but somewhat unsatisfying horror/thriller debut from Dave Franco connecting people

July 20, 2020
Alix Turner 0
Film, Film Reviews
3

Summary

Two men, a woman both are close to, and the wife of one of them, all spend a weekend on the coast. What could go wrong? Everything?

3

Summary

Two men, a woman both are close to, and the wife of one of them, all spend a weekend on the coast. What could go wrong? Everything?

The Rental is a coastal holiday home where two couples go to spend a celebratory weekend, and which doesn’t go as smoothly as planned. It is also the name of a horror/thriller film, and the directorial debut from Dave Franco, a name already famous from such films as Now You See Me, The Disaster Artist, etc.

The two couples are made up of Charlie (Dan Stevens, Legion, The Guest), his wife Michelle (Alison Brie, Community, BoJack Horseman), Charlie’s brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White, Homecoming, Shameless USA) and Josh’s partner Mina (Sheila Vand, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night), who is also Charlie’s business partner. Each of the personalities is fairly well drawn (though Michelle’s is a little sketchy until the second half); not with much depth, mind you, but then I’m not sure much would emerge during a single weekend away. Neither do we get much of their background, just the bare minimum required by the (almost formulaic) plot.

What they do bring to the party, though, is conflict; some of which is already there, brewing under the surface; and some sparked by Taylor (Toby Huss, Halt and Catch Fire, Destroyer) the earthy landlord who “welcomes” them to the rather lovely house. Tension about each other and tension about Taylor’s casual racism collide… though I should note the film is proper tense even before they do.

That’s The Rental’s strength. It has a slow, broody tone which reminded me of the start of Kusama’s The Invitation; and although any film lover would recognize what is about to happen before almost every scene, the tension works. It’s almost as if the writing team (Dave Franco with Joe Swanberg and Mike Demski) had thought “we know people have seen this scenario before: we’re going to take our time with it and do it well.” So we have a house in the middle of nowhere; city folks (including one who isn’t white American) in unfamiliar countryside; people who love each other, but don’t usually spend time this close together; growing suspicion… oh, and a fabulous forest, cliffs, dramatic waves, and fog. But the tension truly does work: whether it is sneaky eye contact, careful conversations, simply Dan Stevens’ eyebrows, or a combination with other factors, I don’t care: Dave Franco can direct a thriller.

I should add the music contributes to that a great deal too. The score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, The Discovery, etc.) creeps tentatively around the line between dramatic and subtle, complementing the film, without ever telling us what to feel.

There were, of course, a couple of problems with The Rental. For a start, the slow pace: for half the film, I found myself wondering, is this a horror, or not? I’m happy and familiar with “slow burn” thrillers and the like, but it continued for so long that some viewers might drift off before the action really starts. The other problem is how the film seemed to have simply too much going on: it wasn’t just formulaic but made up of several formulas, and it was never quite clear if there was one principle issue. It seemed at first the horror was going to come from the secrets between the four people, maybe a serious equivalent of Nothing to Hide. But was it about the owner getting a bit too close, a rental equivalent of The Intruder? Or was it about the two couples being watched, a modern take on My Little Eye? Fisticuffs with a bigot gone too far? Or were we going to see someone turn up in the night with a big knife?

Any two of those might have made it almost a Hitchcockian quality film, but three or more, and a film loses focus. If more depth had been added to the characters, the four main actors could have made The Rental into something surprising. All the cast (especially Alison Brie) made the most of their simple roles, and it would have been rewarding to know them better.


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